What type of arthritis do I have? | Norton Healthcare Louisville, Ky.

What type of arthritis do I have?

Not all pain in joints is the same — if you experience arthritis, here are some things to know

Arthritis is a disease of the joints. The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). If you wonder “What kind of arthritis do I have?” Or if you are looking for the symptoms of arthritis, read on.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is chronic disorder in one or more joints. The term describes over 100 conditions that affect joints and their connective tissues. Besides OA and RA, other types of arthritis include gout and childhood arthritis.  Although symptoms and severity vary depending on the patient and type of arthritis, most include joint pain and stiffness but can include swelling or limited movement.

Osteoarthritis symptoms and treatment

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis and occurs over time.  It is often called “degenerative joint disease.” Symptoms often include joint pain and stiffness. The most commonly affected joints are the joints in the hands, hips and knees.

When the cartilage (the connective tissue that cushions bones) breaks down, the bones can rub together and cause pain, irritation to the surrounding tissues and swelling. In some cases, there is reduced function, so the person can’t perform everyday activities. The symptoms of osteoarthritis include pain, stiffness in the joints, and decreased flexibility. These may or may not get better with over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

There is no cure for OA, but it can be managed with low-impact physical activity, physical therapy, weight loss, medications and supportive devices such as crutches.

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and treatment

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic inflammatory condition that can effect both the joints as well as other organs such as the skin, eyes and lungs.     In RA, usually many joints are affected at the same time, typically the hands and wrists, although most joints can be affected by the inflammation.

The lining of the joint becomes inflamed and can damage the surrounding bone and other tissues.  This results in pain, swelling, stiffness, and sometimes changes in the joint structure that can be seen as deformity of the joint. RA can get worse during periods called “flares.” It can get better during “remission” periods.

The main difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis is that rheumatoid arthritis is caused by an underlying autoimmune/inflammatory process.

Other symptoms of RA can include:

  • Pain, aching, swelling, tenderness or stiffness in more than one joint
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness

The specific causes of RA are unknown but it is thought to be due to a combination of genetic predisposition (family history) and environmental triggers.  Smoking is a known trigger for rheumatoid arthritis

Treatment for RA primarily consists of medication but also includes lifestyle management such as increasing low-impact physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight.

This content was reviewed by Tristan D. Blackburn, MD, rheumatology.

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